What Causes Divorces?

When you focus your life totally on helping people survive divorce, you get a lot of questions from people about why people divorce. Although I don’t work to save marriages, I think I’ve gained some insight over the years. For what it’s worth, here it is

There are as many theories on this issue as there are people offering them. The usual explanations are communication, compromise, and commitment, and it’s hard to disagree with them.

Indeed, if both spouses were consistently able to communicate with each other, able and willing to compromise with each other, and 100% committed to their marriage, it’s hard to see how it could fail.

The vexing question, of course is HOW do they foster communication, compromise, and commitment? Here the explanations diverge.

For those with a fundamental faith foundation, the answer is clear. Marriages work if both spouses obey the principles of the faith. For a more prosaic explanation, check marriagebuilders.com, where therapist Willard Harley lays out a simple set of principles he says any couple can use to help their romance survive and thrive.

The principle that creates the most stir with groups I address is from Cosmopolitan magazine a few years back, namely that the most reliable indicator of the success of a marriage is the extent to which both the husband and wife had close, long-term, platonic relationships with members of the opposite sex before they met.

When you think about it, this makes sense. It’s startling to reflect on how little time husbands and wives spend in genuinely romantic interaction. They will spend most of their married life relating to each other as friends. If either or both of them lacks the essential skills or inclination to do that, the marriage is unlikely to thrive.

One thing I feel strongly about is how little impact adultery has on divorce, and I know that I’m going against the tide here. I hear constantly from all-knowing observers – many of them fundamentalist Christians – who proclaim that if you look behind most divorces, you’ll find an adulterous affair somewhere. That may be partially true, because many divorces do involve adultery, but I believe adultery to be a symptom, not a cause, of most divorces. Adultery is a reaction to abuse, and it is a tool of abuse.

Adultery is the legal “gotcha,” but I don’t think it causes many divorces. I think the crud that drives husbands and wives apart causes divorces. And I think the crud that drives husbands and wives apart also causes adultery. That means they certainly are related, but that doesn’t mean adultery causes divorce.

When it comes down to it, my guess is that the main factors that make a marriage work are a combination of the three C’s – communication, compromise, and commitment, with a generous sprinkling of blind luck. For those of us in stable, long-term marriages, we have to acknowledge the role that luck plays.